01.27.12: the dirty dozen {mystery train,* round IV}

that last matched batch of books and their train-ridin' readers went down as decisively as i did when i sprained my ankle two weeks ago; well done, everyone! thanks to the latter plunge, since last we convened to speculate about the subway system and its denizens, purpy and i have spent a lot of time on both trains and buses; while i would love to present you with a sub-challenge of bus riders and their books, we all know the bus is full of text-scorning ruffians. you should see them eat, though!

this passel, on the other hand, continues to savor the printed word. would the dueling eugenides-readers (for whom i've decided to bump the batch to thirteen, since with the repeat there are only twelve books) make a good crime-fighting duo? if so, which one would take their motorcycle's sidecar? which text was one mystery reader underlining with such gusto? where was the man with the waxed moustache going? am i among these people in a fabulous disguise?** so many questions; as yet, so few answers. as before, if you correctly pair a book with its reader, i'll update the lists.

{the peeps}

01 F, early 20s, long, loose, dark hair, gray-blue puffer coat with high cloud collar, big, caramel-brown leather purse in lap, black messenger bag and brown paper bag at feet, crocheted black tights, heavy dark-brown harness boots, ditched book and switched to oriental trading company catalog after six stops, switched to lucky after two more, B train [city of glass, paul auster - MDF recalls my auster-hatred]

02 M, early 40s, short, gelled hair, rectangular, wire-rimmed reading glasses, narrow, square jaw, frowning, red-and-white plaid shirt, beat-up indiana jones-ish leather coat, ipod and big black messenger bag in lap, green chinos, brown desert boots, F train

03 M, 60s, wild white hair, two-tone reading glasses, short down-filled north face jacket with sex and the city crew patch on left shoulder, faded black jeans, black swiss army backpack hanging from left knee, tan work boots, F train [shell game, carol o'connell - MDF spots the first of the murdering kind]

04 M, late 30s, intentional stubble, slight flip in bangs, black wool overcoat, blue and white microstriped dress shirt worn open-necked over white tee, french cuffs with black monkey's-fist cufflinks, grey slacks, shiny black slip-ons, ratty grey gym bag worn cross-body, B train [republic, lost: how money corrupts congress—and a plan to stop it, lawrence lessig - rob knows his purposeful menswear]

05 F, early 40s, shoulder-length, curly black hair, charcoal grey wool coat with button-down epaulets, lavender scarf, grey pencil skirt, sizeable diamond engagement ring and wedding band, shoulder bag made of beige seatbelts, flat black boots, holding orange library card, A train [well-offed in vermont, amy patricia meade - MDF pegs the second killer as well]

06 M, 30s, grey knit cap, faint stubble, navy zippered members only jacket over grey-green hoodie, japanese denim jeans, monochrome black chuck taylors, grey-and-navy gym bag in lap, wearing grey flip-up smoking mittens, L train

07 M, late 30s, stubble and grizzly goatee, grey folded-up knit cap, black anorak with white-lined hood, dirty jeans, grey airwalks with red stripes, massive black messenger bag over shoulder and in lap, ankles crossed and tucked under seat, R train

08 F, 20s, round face, long, loose, side-parted brown hair, purple-and-green missioni zigzag scarf, big brown purse with gold straps and a little green purse tucked inside, horizontally-quilted black puffer coat, flared-leg jeans, pointy-toed black oxfords, holding book up with both hands right in front of her face, F train

09 M, 30s, full red beard and waxed, upturned moustache, denim driving cap, thick white plastic glasses, dark jeans, blue plaid shirt under open khaki trench, heavy gold chain, blue slip-on vans, tall blue-on-blue doctor's satchel between knees, M train

10 M, 30s, caesar haircut with long bangs, thin face with high cheekbones, heavy black sock-hop-era wool coat over hoodie, jeans, grey and black running shoes, huge khaki-and-acid-green messenger bag on lap, B train [the marriage plot, jeffrey eugenides - MDF - was it the bangs?]

11 F, 20s, wavy hair in model-on-a-go-see updo, brooke shields eyebrows, red lipstick, red ski patrol parka with white reflective stripe, grey heather leggings, black motorcycle boots, black leather bucket bag with little brass feet, B train

12 M, 30s, black wire-rimmed glasses, short, dark, curly hair, incipient neck beard, oversized black nylon hoodie, worn unzipped, dark jeans, dark brown leather moccasins, gripping train pole with the crook of his arm, large plastic zabar's bag at feet, B train

13 F, 50s, curly, shoulder-length, salt-and-pepper hair, black wire-rimmed reading glasses, long, black wool coat, massive black new york public radio tote bag hanging over knees, teal leather purse in lap, book full of notes and passages underlined in red pencil, F train [mrs. dalloway, virginia woolf - MDF, unafraid]

{the books}

republic, lost: how money corrupts congress—and a plan to stop it, lawrence lessig
juliet, naked, nick hornby
word freak: heartbreak, triumph, genius, and obsession in the world of competitive scrabble players, stefan fatsis
the marriage plot, jeffrey eugenides
a tree grows in brooklyn, betty smith
the kandy-kolored tangerine-flake streamline baby, tom wolfe
city of glass, paul auster
getting things done: the art of stress-free productivity, david allen
shell game, carol o'connell
mrs. dalloway, virginia woolf
the marriage plot, jeffrey eugenides
super sad true love story, gary shteyngart
well-offed in vermont, amy patricia meade

*tip of the hat, as always, to coverspy.

**at one point this week i was trying to nab the guy sitting next to me (a dodgy proposition, as they can usually see what you're writing); i couldn't catch the outside of his book and didn't recognize the text, though, so i gave up and started reading my own. when he closed it and got up to leave, i realized we were both holding copies of pulphead; then a black hole opened up in the seat-molding betwixt us and swallowed the entire train.


from nick paumgarten's "the ring and the bar," a new yorker profile of the irrepressible bob bozic, former heavyweight boxer and longtime "destination bartender" at fanelli's in soho:
Bozic occasionally makes women cry. (And when he does he tells them to go to his favorite bookstore in the Village and pick up a paperback, his treat—"Red Cavalry and Other Stories," by Isaac Babel, or "The Bridge on the Drina," by Ivo Andric.)
if a man made me cry and sent me out to buy a book of his choosing, i'd cancel his genitals between two boxed sets of the twilight saga.



the long ships (frans g. bengtsson)*
CHALLENGER: louisa may alcott (harriet reisen)

louisa may alcott enthusiasts are a spooky bunch. little women was a pleasant enough childhood read, but the little women (and little men, and jo's boys, and so on) scene is an intense one: like anne of green gables fangirls and little house on the prairie reenactors, the alcott admirers i've met tend to brag about growing up without television and, like, refer to their hair as their glory. while there's nothing formally terrible about either of those tendencies, i'd rather not get trapped in an elevator with someone who exhibited them.

it would be superconvenient re: THUNDERTOME structure if, having read harriet reisen's painstakingly-researched alcott biography, i now felt differently about little women women, or was at least able to tell you that alcott herself wasn't spooky at all. i'm fairly sure i don't, is the thing, and she...is?

by all accounts, growing up alcott was pretty miserable. louisa's father, bronson, a transcendentalist who ran with nineteenth-century luminaries like emerson, thoreau, and hawthorne in massachusetts, had little interest in conventional living arrangements or employment (or, eventually, property**). principles like bronson's are well and good for single, unmoored fellows whose bones are finished growing, but they're pretty lousy for dependent wives and little girls; louisa's long-suffering mother, abby, scrambled to pay the family's crippling debts with help from her relatives (including, at a frighteningly young age, louisa herself; she was her family's principal breadwinner from her late teens until her death), and all of the family starved and froze when he decided they would both adhere to his strict vegetarian principles and subsist on what they could grow and forage at the various utopian communities he attempted to establish (and from which they were perpetually in danger of being evicted).

"but he was a dreamer," you say, "and we should treasure and indulge and nurture our dreamers!" he was also an insufferably self-important pedagogue who, in his attempts at educational reform at various experimental schools in boston and elsewhere, "invited students to defy him and then punished them by public shunning—making visible what it meant to lose god's love" and handed down "lordly dismissal[s] of any views but his own."

papa alcott was a piece of work, is what i'm saying, and in some ways his is the central personality in reisen's book; abby orbited bronson, the girls orbited their parents (whose gravity was immense - abby would read and comment in louisa's diary), and the alcotts' financial responsibilities tethered louisa's writing to the commercial realities of her day.

to say that reisen (also a writer-producer of an alcott documentary) is wildly sympathetic to her subject is, if possible, a huge understatement; in the preface to her biography, she explains that she herself is an alcott addict, and that her hope
[...] is that readers of this book will be inspired to track down the dozen or more of Louisa May Alcott's works whose titles are known but whose whereabouts are not, to bring them forth from obscure periodicals in the backs of old library shelves, attic trunks, even from inside the walls of old houses, as pages of Louisa's Fruitlands diaries were, so they may be published and read as widely as their most recent predecessors have been. If they do, I may never have to run out of new work from the prodigious pen of Louisa May Alcott.
damn, louisa; your biographer so ardent! i'm tempted to admire alcott's devotion to her family for reisen's sake - the latter is a graceful, deft, compelling storyteller, and the story she tells of louisa's refused marriage proposals and truncated trips abroad is nearly heartbreaking - but the truth is that, quoth louisa, "i'd rather be a free spinster and paddle my own canoe." behind the pen name a.m. barnard, she wrote pulp fiction about "spies and transvestites and drug takers" - but she didn't seem to have much interest in the world beyond the family hearth (her brief and disastrous stint as a nurse during the civil war notwithstanding). she sure could fictionalize that hearth and make it sound toxic idyllic, though! what a woman!

i'm aware that louisa may alcott inspired hordes of girls who went on to become accomplished writers. i'm aware that i am in all seriousness a terrible person for disliking her; i console myself, gentle readers, with the thought that if you've been reading kidchamp for long, you knew that already. reisen i like very much (i'd have loved to have taken one of her film classes at stanford), and if she'd managed to work a viking ex machina in at the end of her biography in lieu of louisa's crippling headaches and doping, i'd have considered letting her kilos of research pile-drive bengtsson's fanciful man-book. in its absence, i can but say that i'd happily read another reisen bio, and that i wish her well.

VICTOR: red orm & friends (the long ships), of course, with a sickening squelch. would a book about creepy martyrdom even want to win?***

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 with whom would you like to be trapped in an elevator?

02 would you rather be trapped in an elevator with kanye west, anthony bourdain, or kirk cameron? death is not an option.

03 at what age is it reasonable for a child to make his or her own decisions about, say, whether or not he or she is a vegetarian?

04 having at that from the other direction: must a parent edit his personal philosophy for the sake of his children? how much?

05 ladies, did you once see yourself as jo march?

06 biography-readers, do you choose your texts for their subjects or their authors?

07 to what tale would you like to append a viking ex machina?

*previous battle here.

**louisa's uncle sam in a letter to emerson about the alcotts: "it is very important that...my sister [abby] and her family might have a shelter...without implicating [bronson] in the sin of living upon soil appropriated to his exclusive use [...] not that I think the plan practicable....but he is so sincere, so devout, so full of faith, that i long to have him try his experiment to his own entire satisfaction."

***"from 1888 until 1950 there was no full-length biography of louisa may alcott, not surprising given her utter lack of critical cachet," reisen writes. "her readers never knew or cared." i'm reminded of a passage of john jeremiah sullivan's, read last night as i waited for the long-suffering m14 bus to take me and my sprained ankle down grand street:

Llewis taught me something. At high school in Jamaica, he said, when your team lost, it was traditional to chant, on your way out of the grounds, "We feel no way! We feel no way!" Meaning essentially, we're not sweating it, we didn't really give a shit anyway.
    It took me several months to make it back, and he grew annoyed. When I finally let myself in through the front door, he didn't get up from his chair. His form sagged so exaggeratedly into the sofa, it was as if thieves had crept through and stolen his bones and left him there. He gestured at the smoky stone fireplace with its enormous black andirons and said, "Boy, I'm sorry the wood's so poor. I had no idea i'd be alive in November." He watched as though paralyzed while I worked at building the fire back up. He spoke only to critique my form. The heavier logs at the back, to project the heat. Not too much flame. "Young men always make that mistake." He asked me to pour him some whiskey and announced flatly his intention to nap. He lay back and draped across his eyes the velvet bag the bottle had come tied in, and I sat across from him for half an hour, forty minutes. At first the talked in his sleep, then to me. The pivots of his turn to consciousness were undetectably slight, with frequent slippages. His speech was full of mutterings, warnings. The artist's life is strewn with traps. Beware "the machinations of the enemy."
    "Mr. Lytle," I whispered, "who is the enemy?"
    He sat up. His unfocused eyes were an icy blue. "Why, boy," he said, "the bourgeoisie!" Then he peered at me for a second as if he'd forgotten who I was. "Of course," he said. "you're only a baby."
    I'd poured myself two bourbons during nap time and felt them somewhat. He lifted his own cup and said, "Confusion to the enemy." We drank.

(john jeremiah sullivan, from pulphead)


the first time it happened i was in a sun-drenched piercing studio in laguna beach, waiting to have a new hole punched in my cartilage; i drank a little paper cup of water, pulled myself together, and went ahead with it. a few times after that, i felt it coming after a long dinner at a cuban restaurant with joe and my dad; we watched a pair of dancers fling each other across the floor beneath a dirty skylight, ate yeasty rolls with garlic butter from a cigar box, and talked politics, then i slithered to the ground in the middle of the plaza. once it happened in the middle of the night, and i woke up in the moonlight with my cheek against our san francisco kitchen's old linoleum floor.

in my late teens and early twenties, i fainted about once a year. to tell you the truth, i tended to forget that it had ever happened until, you know, it happened again. both my mother and sister have had similar experiences; mom once fainted while handing in a college assignment, and emily once hit her san francisco kitchen floor (and maybe part of her counter on the way down - as i recall, there was a head-whacking in that story). the takeaways back then were that since extremely low blood pressure runs in our family, i should be sure to have at least one cup of coffee in the morning - and if black fireworks flared up at the edges of my vision, i should sit down. otherwise, since the episodes had no constants (time of day, level of hydration, time since last meal, mental state - each swoon had a unique combination), there wasn't much i could do.

i had a span of several years without episodes here in new york, and then joe and i met newly-engaged friends for mexican food down in union square late one afternoon. as we waited for a table, i started to feel sick to my stomach; a buzzing kicked up in my ears, and the room began to curl at the corners. i made it to the sidewalk outside the restaurant before falling into joe's arms, and when i came to, i had no idea where we were. i became obsessed with the idea that passerby would think i was drunk - though i was sober as a judge, i was slurring my words - so i insisted we go ahead with the dinner. i think i made it halfway through a piece of cheese crisp before asking to go home and folding myself up on the floor of a cab.

that was the first of the two really lousy swoons. the second came after a night at our local bar in hell's kitchen: with a few beers in me, i was easy prey for the black fireworks. joe heard a horrible crash in our bathroom and came in to find me on the floor. though i'm usually limp and weak after an episode, that one went through me like lightning; i promptly tried to take a shower, fainted again, and became a slippery, flailing, senseless thing. as he called for an ambulance, i remember clinging desperately to our mattress as though gravity had forgotten me and i'd spin off into the ceiling. i was sure i'd never control my body again.

i was up and talking by the time the paramedics arrived, and i gave them the long, boring history of the pressure and makeup of my blood ("she donates a lot of blood," joe explained). fluids at the hospital felt like a cold shower under my skin, and i finally knew how our little cat must have felt when we gave him injections (though i always warmed his IV bags). the attending doctor doubled my drink count in his head, diagnosed me with vasovagal syncope, and sent me on my way. we shuffled home down ninth avenue, five hundred dollars poorer, as the sun rose, and i paused in front of the OPTIMISM sticker on a bodega's vending machine. "apparently the universe is in its first semester of film school."

early this monday morning, joe heard another terrific crash in the bathroom. i woke up able to tell him that i hadn't hit my head (wrong; i'd knocked both my temple and the back of my head, though they were light knocks and i wasn't concussed) and that i couldn't walk (right, unfortunately; i sprained my left ankle, and my foot looks like an artisanal sausage).

why do i tell you this? i'm not entirely sure. i don't want or expect pity; swooning ladies are too coddled in our and previous societies, if you ask me. my case isn't especially edifying; fainting and getting a diagnosis of "fainting" is pretty open-and-shut, really. perhaps i simply want to share a vulnerability; i grew up with the firm conviction that little girls who underwent injury or sickness without tears or complaint were braver and nobler than little girls who didn't, and that's an idea i've thought about setting aside. perhaps, having told you about strangers' books all month, i just wanted to tell you something personal. don't worry about me! but maybe, you know, don't lend me your wedding china.


paul at sunday salon, cont'd.

paul, dearest of the dear, read from the drowned library, his first collection of stories, at sunday salon at jimmy's no. 43 the other night, and i stamped my feet with pride. kidchamp reading recommendation no. 993: the drowned library, dirty uncle paul.*

*now literally an uncle! not my uncle; long story.

01.13.12: i said consummate Vs

trogdor I   trogdor II

peoplewatching is great, but detritus-watching is the best.


yr narratr, carsten höller mirror carousel cont'd.

as of today, i've been alive for exactly a third of a century; as you would imagine, i feel terribly old. in this next third i think i'd like to dance at my mom's wedding, and to go to cuba and antarctica, and to meet my sisters' children and maybe some tigers. that's how the list begins, anyway.

    "Here is the story I want to tell you. You know, there was a very unusual situation, two years ago, in 2003. The city of Ust-Kut, west of here, on the Lena River, have you heard of it? So, if you go down the Lena River to the north of Ust-Kut there is a small village called Verkhnemarkovo. On November tenth of that year it was very cold there, minus twenty-five degrees centigrade, ice already stays on the river. Some boys went fishing along the river. And suddenly from the sky this bird fell on them—a flamingo! A flamingo falls on them from above! It's snowing, ice all around, and this bird is falling. The boys picked up this bird and brought it home, started to treat its frostbitten toes, even some of its small feathers have fallen off.
    "So they took care of it, and cured it, and in January of 2004 they brought it here to us in the winter garden, and the flamingo lived here in our garden. Crowds of people, everybody came here to look at this miracle. Here the flamingo became so beautiful and haughty. Our flamingo was shown on TV, they spoke about it on the radio, it was in newspapers and magazines. It is a real celebrity, a superstar, our flamingo. We fed him minced fish made in a meat grinder, carrots, all vegetables, whatever you have. But he was not pink, but gray. Flamingos are pink because of the pink in the hermit crabs and shrimps they eat, but Baikal has no shrimps, so he didn't have those, and that's why he was so grayish. But so beautiful, haughty, independent he was.
    "The flamingo stayed with us for seven months and then we forwarded it to the Krasnoyarsk zoo. And now the flamingo is in the zoo, it lives there, and everything is okay. But you know, nobody can explain the reason for this bird's appearance in Siberia, in the north—a bird that lives in the south and does not fly so far, they are not migratory birds. Geese and ducks arrive in our area, we admit, but this bird lives only in the south.
    "But this is not all yet.
    "Last year, also in November, on the Yenisei River in the north near the city of Yeniseisk, in the same way boys also find a second bird—another flamingo! This second flamingo was also frostbitten. It also was rescued and sent to us, and this other flamingo we also warmed up and caressed, and it too was then taken away to Krasnoyarsk. Now there are two of them there. Our first is called Phila, and the second Phima. Only I do not know what they are, girls or boys, because they still are baby birds, little ones. Such a wonderful story. You are a writer—isn't it a most unusual story? How would one explain this occurrence? How come that the flamingos appeared here? I'll show you a few photos, just look."
    She took a few snapshots from an album on a garden bench. The pictures of the flamingo—the first or second one, I'm not sure which—had the radiant, revelatory quality of icon paintings. They showed the flamingo standing in the winter garden's tiled pond and regarding the photographer with an expression that was, indeed, haughty. He (or she) looked as if he had just planted the flamingo flag and claimed this place for Flamingo. Though kind of gray, he was definitely a flamingo. He seemed to have become comfortable with his singularity, and to accept as a matter of course the attention focused on him. Naturally he would find a tropical forest in the middle of Siberia, and naturally it would need a flamingo.

(ian frazier, from travels in siberia)
01.06.12: the dirty dozen {mystery train, round III}

december's installment of mystery train ended yesterday in a grand-guignol tide of merciless identifications, probably because i've been bellowing about how i can't post a new list until the previous one's readers have been matched up with titles (even though the list before it still has four orphans). let's bring bookish back in 2012 and get cracking again without delay, shall we?

here are twelve subway riders and the books they were reading when i started taking creepy notes on them. who got his or her hands on an advance reader copy of catherine chung's first novel? might the argentina enthusiast be someone i'd like to travel with on my way down to antarctica?* is there something buried in our dna which compels us to use airplane tickets as bookmarks?** can we talk about how amazing it is that someone's reading mercedes lackey in the twenty-first century? as before, if you correctly pair a book with its reader, i'll update the lists. tip of the hat, as always, to coverspy - and may the odds be ever in your favor.

[final update: as of 01.10.12, no riders remain! well done, internets; i'll begin my creeping anew on the morrow. see below for the correct pairings.]

{the peeps}

01 F, early 20s, curly, layered blonde hair, high-collared, draped black coat, black skirt, black tights, black spike-heeled booties, crossed legs, gold-studded black hobo in lap, sniffling, D train [catching fire, suzanne collins - jacob's first mercy killing]

02 F, 20s, long, thick black hair twisted back at temples, long eyelashes, thick mauve scarf, long black puffer with grey-faux-fur-trimed hood, narrow, pointy-toed, high-heeled, black mary janes, R train [a clash of kings, george r. r. martin - rob, hunting witches]

03 F, late 20s, freckles, golden-red hair in short, neat ponytail, long camel coat, pink-and-aqua scarf with gold threads, dark brown shell, long gold necklace, rust-colored leather bag on shoulder, jeans, caramel moccasins, F train [straphanger: saving our cities and ourselves from the automobile, taras grescoe - rob 2: electric boogaloo]

04 F, early 50s, thick, straightened blonde hair, half-rim tortoiseshell glasses, coral lipstick, black anorak with gold zippers and buttons, black prada shoulder bag, black riding boots over black leggings, B train [eyewitness argentina (dk eyewitness travel guides) - MDF spotted the well-heeled traveler]

05 F, early 30s, snowflake manicure, stick-straight, center-parted, chin-length, dyed red hair, red hooded pea coat, grey tights, black ballet flats with snakeskin bows, linda the bra lady bag, F train [wives and daughters, elizabeth gaskell - rob identifies casa de kidchamp's nod to #boobsweek]

06 M, early 40s, hair swept up and back from brow, full cheeks, half-frame glasses with upturned corners, thick brown leather jacket, green boot-cut sweatpants, blue converse all-stars, blue case logic satchel in lap, D train [arrows of the queen, mercedes lackey - george, like talia, is an empath]

07 F, 60s, thin-brimmed black hat lined with black faux shearling, curly steel grey hair, wire-rimmed reading glasses, royal blue barn coat, black gloves, tapestry cross-body bag, heavy black hiking boots, grey flared trousers, C train [a fine balance, rohinton mistry - maggie lands a hit from the southern hemisphere]

08 M, 40s, stout, artfully mussed hair, beard with white streaks, black pea coat over dusty blue fisherman's sweater, bright red vans, two black duffels between feet, F train [the sixth man, david baldacci - MDF spied the baldacci enthusiast's artful muss]

09 F, early 20s, brown bangs, black hood up and clutched below chin, knitted olive scarf looped around under hood, black manicure, pigeon-toed black combat boots over black leggings, F train [miss peregrine's home for peculiar children, ransom riggs - MDF, neighborhood goth watch]

10 F, late 40s, short hair, rectangular purple reading glasses, intricate, dangly silver earrings, deep purple turtleneck, large gold rings on every finger but her thumbs, long-tasseled black scarf, black coat, black slacks, penguin classics tote hung on knees, F train [the girl from foreign: a memoir, sadia shepard - george: the revenge]

11 F, early 20s, zaftig, cable-knit black cap over long, straightened dark brown hair, raisin-tinted lipstick, black slouch boots over indigo jeggings, grey leather crossbody bag, D train [extremely loud and incredibly close, jonathan safran foer - suspected by jacob, scorner of suspect editions]

12 M, late 20s, thinning, close-cropped hair with widow's peak, thick eyebrows, neatly trimmed moustache and beard, brown waxed-canvas coat with luxe orange plaid lining, black-and-white pony sneakers, bright purple backpack between feet, boarding pass as bookmark, F train [forgotten country, catherine chung - jacob's second mercy killing]

{the books}

a fine balance, rohinton mistry
miss peregrine's home for peculiar children, ransom riggs
extremely loud and incredibly close, jonathan safran foer
wives and daughters, elizabeth gaskell
the sixth man, david baldacci
straphanger: saving our cities and ourselves from the automobile, taras grescoe
arrows of the queen, mercedes lackey
the girl from foreign: a memoir, sadia shepard
forgotten country, catherine chung
catching fire, suzanne collins
a clash of kings, george r. r. martin
eyewitness argentina (dk eyewitness travel guides)

*fun fact: if you head for antarctica via argentina, you don't need a yellow fever vaccination.

**i dog-ear books, both at the top corners (to mark my place) and at the bottom corners (to designate pages i want to revisit for THUNDERTOME). some pages are scored thrice and end up looking mangled, but they are mangled with love.

[...] Usually when we rode in Roman's car, he played American rap and rock music on tape cassettes that you might find in the 99¢ bin at an American flea market. He sometimes talked to me about the music he played. One afternoon as we were bouncing and zooming in his little car on a Vladivostok street broken to pieces by ice and thaws, he put on a cassette by Kid Rock. I would not have recognized the artist, but Roman told me who it was. "I love Kid Rock's music," he said, "but I don't know what his words mean."
    I listened for a while to the song. "Well, here he's saying that he wants money in order to make his life better," I explained.
    "Oh, I understand," Roman said. Then, "Kid Rock is a scandalist, yes?"
    "Yes, I think so. He was married to Pamela Anderson, of Baywatch."
    "Ah, yes. I know Baywatch. Pamela Anderson—she is also a scandalist, I think."
    Just then the car hit a big bump and all of us ricocheted off the ceiling. Roman said, "Oh, these roads!"
    "Dorogi, i duraki" (roads, and idiots), I said. (This is a famous saying, attributed to Gogol, who once noted that in Russia the two biggest problems were the roads, and idiots.)
    Roman laughed. "Yes," he said. "And they never repair either one."

(ian frazier, from travels in siberia)

en route to the terminal, christmas eve eve

how florid you were, end of 2011! abandoned by an ailing milkmaid, i watched a kid from billy elliot dump blood all over a bunch of shakespeareans;* spirited to arizona, i read the hunger games trilogy in like thirty-six hours and beheld a giant snowman made of diet root beer. i floated in a nudie tank at the new museum and ended up with swimmer's ear; i flew to california and received a rhino head made of old pants. i donned a creepy venetian mask and completely missed the orgy room at sleep no more.*** i started a book that, had i finished it, would've won THUNDERTOME for the year. there is much to tell, and i have missed you.

imaginary reading group discussion questions

01 does stage blood bother you?

02 how many plane rides did you take in december?

03 would you risk getting swimmer's ear from a museum's nudie tank?

04 if you were a rhino head made of old pants, would you rather hang above a bar cart or in a bedroom?

05 can i post another dozen subway readers even though some of the previous fourteen remain unmatched?

06 where were you on new year's eve?

*second-bloodiest show i've ever seen!**

**the all-time bloodiest was evil dead: the musical.

***which, let's be honest, is probably for the best; december was already unusually nude.